Breast Reconstruction for many women diagnosed with breast cancer, mastectomy (breast removal) is an unfortunate, yet lifesaving, treatment. Women who have undergone full or partial mastectomy can choose to have breast reconstruction to restore their natural bust line, renewing their sense of femininity.
Reconstruction of a breast that has been removed due to cancer or other disease is increasingly becoming a more common procedure as medical and cosmetic surgery advances continue. These advances have made it possible for surgeons to create a breast that can closely resemble, in form and appearance, a natural breast. In most cases, breast reconstruction is possible immediately following a mastectomy enabling the patient to wake-up with a breast mound already in place, and thus, sparing the patient the unpleasant experience of seeing herself with no breast at all.
Please remember that post-mastectomy breast reconstruction is not a simple procedure and should be given serious consideration. Dr. Harris will talk to you about your many options and recommend what will be best for you based upon your medical history and personal expectations.
Are You a Candidate for Breast Reconstruction?
The best candidates are women whose cancer, as far as can be determined, will have been eliminated by the mastectomy, though this does not necessarily exclude other situations.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and a mastectomy is planned, it is advisable that you begin talking about reconstructive surgery as soon as possible, before you undergo mastectomy. Dr. Harris will work with your breast surgeon to develop a strategy that will put you in the best possible condition for reconstruction in one setting.
After evaluating your health, Dr. Harris will explain which reconstructive options are most appropriate for your age, health, anatomy, tissues, and goals. It is important that you discuss your questions, expectations and concerns honestly with Dr. Harris.
About Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Breast Reconstruction surgery is an in-patient procedure performed at an accredited surgery center or hospital setting under general anesthesia. Multiple stages of reconstruction is not uncommon in some patients. Surgical time: 2-5 hours
Techniques of breast reconstruction can vary from autogenous (using one’s own body tissue) or implant reconstruction ,this can be in the form of a tissue expander (a type of “balloon” implant) which is placed under the skin and periodically inflated until the desired sized is reached. This expander is then replaced with a permanent implant.
The breast reconstruction can also be performed in one step with an implant, though revision may be required. The nipple and the dark skin surrounding it, called the areola, are reconstructed in a subsequent procedure.
Most breast reconstruction involves a series of stages that occur over a period of time. Usually, the initial reconstructive operation is the most complex. Follow-up surgery may be required to replace a tissue expander with an implant or to reconstruct the nipple and the areola. In addition, further operations to enlarge, reduce, or lift the natural breast to match the reconstructed breast may be necessary.
Radiation, following Mastectomy, will influence the method of reconstruction. Dr. Harris will discuss this in detail with you.
Breast Reconstruction Recovery
For several days after your surgery, you will probably experience discomfort, which can be controlled with medication. The need for medication is greatly reduced after four to five days. Many reconstruction options require a surgical drain to remove excess fluids from surgical sites immediately following the operation. These drains are normally removed within the first week or two after surgery.
It is common for most patients to take up to six weeks to recover from a combined mastectomy and reconstruction or from a flap reconstruction alone. If implants are used without flaps, and reconstruction is done apart from the mastectomy, your recovery time may be less.
Reconstruction cannot restore normal sensation to your breast, though in time some feeling may return. Most scars will fade significantly over time. To expedite and facilitate this process, daily massaging of the scars during this period will be advised.
Heavy lifting or other strenuous activity is prohibited in the first six weeks following your surgery. Walking is helpful in the first three to four weeks as this improves circulation and contributes to a reduction of swelling and the development of blood clots.
Virtually any woman who must lose her breast to cancer can have it rebuilt through reconstructive surgery. But there are risks associated with any surgery and specific complications associated with this procedure.
In general, the usual risks associated with surgery, such as bleeding, fluid collection, excessive scar tissue, or difficulties with anesthesia, can occur, although they are relatively uncommon.
If an implant is used, there is a remote possibility that an infection will develop, usually within the first two weeks following surgery. In some of these cases, the implant may need to be removed for several months until the infection clears. A new implant can later be inserted. Implants may change position postoperatively. Should this occur, this may require correction surgery.
Capsular contracture or hardening of the breast is the most common complication of breast implants and occurs when the skin around the scar tissue shrinks around the implant, squeezing it so that it starts to feel unnaturally firm or hard.
The cause of capsular contracture is not completely understood. It is important to realize that there are varying degrees of contracture, and that the majority of women who do experience this hardening do so only to a mild extent. In some cases, it may be severe enough to be uncomfortable, even painful and may cause distortion of the breast. The condition may occur in one or both breasts and to a different degree. It is possible that capsular contraction could develop at any point following your surgery, sometimes even years later. In most cases, it is most likely to occur in the first three years. Unfortunately, at this time there is no effective way to prevent capsular contracture.
Reconstruction has no known effect on the recurrence of disease in the breast. Should your cancer return, reconstruction does not generally interfere with chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Dr. Harris may recommend the continuation of regular mammograms on both the reconstructed and the remaining normal breast. If your reconstruction involves an implant, at the time of each mammogram, the radiographer should be informed of the presence of implants in order for the necessary adjustments to the mammogram can be instituted to ensure proper radiological evaluation.